When I ask my clients in the beginning of my logo design process to choose up to five aesthetic qualities that are the most important for their brand, the quality clients most often select is “elegant”. We can all tell something is elegant when we see it, but what specific graphic design choices create this effect?
In this article, I’ve explained the 5 most important guidelines that result in elegant logo designs. There are exceptions to each of these rules because we sometimes need to balance aesthetic qualities that are seemingly on the opposite ends of the spectrum. When that happens, usually elegance will be highlighted through a different part of the design. That said, this is always a good starting point.
1. Elegant brand identities have restricted color palettes
The most elegant color combination is black and white, especially white letters on black backgrounds. This combo is often used in brands of luxury products such as cars, watches, and jewelry, sometimes with a hint of gold or silver.
Muted color palette of a law firm logo and brand identity
That doesn’t mean that elegant brands should not use chromatic (rainbow) colors at all. Your brand will be more easily distinguished from competitors if it features a main color that is distinct from what everyone else uses. However, the overall color palette should lean towards muted/monochromatic, with one strongly saturated color at most.
Any color can be elegant in the right context, but some are more difficult to combine in that way. While dark gray, navy blue, beige, and dark purple are quite elegant in and of themselves, neon green and bright red are not known for that. If you choose a bright, saturated color for your palette, use it only for the accents, but never on large areas if you want to appear elegant.
The logo and brand identity of an IP law firm features a strong accent color, but the rest of the palette is neutral
This brand identity features a strong warm accent color in the monogram, but it's always surrounded by neutral colors. A dark, cool, non-saturated color dominates the brand applications, and this is emphasized in the brand style guide so that no one makes the mistake on using the coral red color on a large surface.
2. Elegant logos use a single font style
The fewer fonts you include in the logo design, the more elegant it looks. While there are exceptions, you really need to ask yourself: is it really necessary to add another font? What will that accomplish, and how will it impact the perception of elegance?
An exception that I see quite often is combining a script font for one word in the name, and a sans-serif for another smaller word below it. That can look good, if perhaps overly trendy.
An example of the script + sans serif combination in a logo design by Andrea Binski
The overall brand identity can and should have more than one typeface in several font styles, because one font alone would look too dull. Usually we use one font on headings and pull-quotes, and another font in paragraphs, lists, tables, and other smaller text. But for the logo itself, less is definitely more.
3. Thinner fonts appear more elegant than thick ones
A font that is thinner in weight (normal, light, or extra light) will appear more elegant than a thick one (bold, black, or extra black). But be careful, because logos that are too thin are difficult to read at small sizes.
The exceptions are high-contrast serif, sans-serif, and script fonts which somehow manage to be both bold and elegant at the same time, and are frequently used in fashion magazines. The logo I made for a hospitality consultant is like that because the client wanted it to be elegant, yet bold. (She’s also a fashionable woman with an elegant style, so the subtle nod to fashion magazines was intentional.)
Thick and chunky logos make an impact, but they are not considered elegant.
4. Elegant logos feature simple graphic symbols
The most elegant-looking symbols are silhouettes and single-color line drawings. They’re also easy to reproduce in any medium: digital apps, offset printing, screen printing, embroidery, laser-cutting, etching...
If a logo mark has too much detail, it starts looking more like an illustration. Usually organization emblems (like government organizations, universities, or sports teams) don’t look elegant since they’re too complex. Thankfully, in recent years many organizations realized the importance of using simple icons in digital media, and have started simplifying their old-fashioned emblems.
Family-owned glassmaking company Rückl redesigned their traditional stork emblem in 2017, and this new version looks fabulous both on their website and their glassware.
Creating symbols that are unique, easy to recognize, yet simple is not an easy task. Take too much away, and it can look too bland. Add to much detail, and it’s a mess. It takes a lot of skill to achieve the perfect balance of character and simplicity.
5. Elegant logos don’t use graphic “effects”
Many young designers go through a phase of adding Illustrator effects to their designs so they look more “impressive”, such as reflections, drop shadows, gradients, 3D extrusion, etc. But it’s not very impressive. It often looks cheap and tacky, which is the opposite of elegant.
Clever design solutions are rarely achieved through automatic effects found within the design software, but instead carefully constructed by hand. Even if a logo features a kind of shadow, mirror, or a 3D effect, it’s probably not the default effect you’ll find in Illustrator.
Car manufacturers are moving away from the skeuomorphic 3D metal hood ornament look, and simplifying their logos to solid shapes.
Elegance is usually achieved by removing all superfluous details that do not add to the meaning of the logo. There may be times when an extra flair is required, but we need to ask ourselves whether the logo will truly be better for it.
Is elegance a must for every logo?
Elegance is just one of many potential aesthetic brand qualities, and it’s not always the one we need to strive for. Logo design choices depend on the brand’s core values, unique value proposition, brand voice, and target audience.
There is no single aesthetic quality that is the right choice for every brand. That said, if elegance is in your top five brand qualities, now you know how to achieve it.
For more graphic design tips, check out my article: Top 11 Easy-to-fix Beginner Design Mistakes (with visual examples)
Looking for an elegant logo design for your business?
I help consulting companies increase their visibility and impact with my signature human-centered branding approach. For more information on how we can work together, check out my brand identity design services.